What happened when Haile Selassie went to Jamaica?
On April 21, 1966, Haile Selassie visited Jamaica. Remember, this was 36-years after his coronation and the enthusiasm of Rasta was undimmed. There was now a new generation of Rastas, many of whom still harboured the vision of an exodus. But by now, many had built an Rastafarian worldview: Babylon was how they described the white-dominated post-colonial system, which directed its efforts to controlling black people and keeping them in a condition Rastas described as “mental slavery,” meaning they were still subservient to whites and accepted their own inferiority. Haile Selassie was overwhelmed by the rapturous reception and clearly liked the lavish praise and worshipful admiration of Rastas.
He did nothing to dispel beliefs in his divine status. By this time, Garvey had died and his criticism of Haile Selassie forgotten. The Emperor himself had been ousted in 1936 after Italy invaded Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, as it was then known. He lived in exile; this, in fact, was one of the principal reasons Garvey attacked him – for leaving his own countrymen at the mercy of Italy. Haile Selassie reinstituted his powers as emperor in 1941, with support from Britain.
We don’t know for sure, but it’s likely that when Haile Selassie visited, a 21-year-old Jamaican who had, the year, before formed a trio called the Wailers, was among the rapturous thousands honouring their redeemer. His name was Robert Nesta Marley.